Not too long ago, Google called for “HTTPS everywhere on the web.”
Within that same announcement, they also said they’d be using it as a ranking signal, albeit a small one.
However, in some of the tests we’ve ran with our clients, we’ve seen organic traffic increases of as much as 15% within one month of rolling out HTTPS.
Today, I’m going to go over the SEO site environment checklist for moving from HTTP to HTTPS as you’ll want to ensure you roll these out to increase your chances of maintaining – or improving – your rankings, and to ensure you get the data you need from your analytics platforms.
Before beginning, I’m going to assume that you’ve already implemented your SSL certificate and, if you use WordPress, added HTTPS to the admin and site address areas. If you are using WordPress, we like to use the WP Force SSL plugin to change links but you may also want to check out Velvet Blues plugin.
Before you roll out the SEO site environment checklist, you’ll also want to run an SSL Test to make sure everything works correctly and an SSL check to see if there is anything else missing from the conversion. If you’re still having issues and aren’t seeing the green padlock, check out https://www.whynopadlock.com/ for information that may be preventing the switch.
Now on to the 3 simple steps to update your site environment plus a bonus fourth step at the end of the video.
1. Update Your Sitemap
Ideally, your SEO plugin does this automatically. However, it does’t always work that way. With Yoast SEO you might have to switch off and on the plugin once for it to update the sitemap. Don’t forget to include it in your robots.txt file and update all other hardcoded links you might have there.
2. Add site versions to Webmaster Tools
Go to every webmaster tool you are using and add the HTTPS version of your site as a new property. While you are there, upload the new sitemap.
I’ve even heard some SEOs re-submitting their old sitemaps in their old WMT property so Google sees the 301s and updates its listings. I find that Google will generally catch this on its own.
3. Update Google Analytics
If your analytics need a default URL, make sure to upgrade it with the new prefix. For Google Analytics, you find the option under Admin > Property Settings > Default URL. Also, note down when you made the switch to HTTPS to understand traffic changes.
Bonus: Update your CDN
If you are using a content delivery network you also need to switch it to SSL. Many of them have that feature built in and your CDN should have documentation on this. Otherwise ask their support to help you.
What are some reasons for a rankings drop after implementing HTTPS?
If you are monitoring your data and notice a rankings drop, it could mean a few different things you’ll want to investigate or understand:
You just made the changes and they take time to be recognized by Google because you have new URLs
Google determines everything about a page based on the URL. What this means is that when you switch to SSL, the URL changes from HTTP to HTTPS. While it’s a minor change, it IS technically a different URL, so Google defaults to thinking it’s a different page.
Generally, Google will get the idea sooner or later, and they will restore most or all of your rankings and traffic once they realize.
This why it is generally good practice to do a lot of website promotion and link building right when make the switch to try to combat this common occurrence.
Your internal links still point at HTTP versions of pages
It’s a pretty simple matter to just find-replace all links on your site with the secure version of your domain. You will probably need to use a crawling tool, or one of the plugins for WordPress previously mentioned.
You have canonical tags pointing at HTTP versions of pages
If you made the changes in your webmaster settings to all the versions of your URLs, you shouldn’t have this issue.
Traffic was previously coming from bad bots that can longer access your site
There are a lot of bots that crawl the web looking for potential targets. When you implement SSL, these bots will blacklist you because they can’t exploit your site anymore, so that traffic drops. This, of course, only applies to traffic, not rankings, so it is up to you to recognize the referral data on your site and examine it.